Commentary

No defense for this failure

Cowboys showing they still haven't taken that step up beyond mediocre level

Updated: September 30, 2013, 4:00 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

SAN DIEGO - Your Dallas Cowboys reign high above the NFL's worst division.

Long live the king.

The Cowboys did their part Sunday to remove any doubt that the NFC East, for years one of football's best divisions, is now a complete joke.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys gave up 506 total yards in Sunday's loss, including 62 yards rushing by Ryan Mathews.

In one of the most ragged defensive performances we've seen from a Jason Garrett-coached team, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers passed for 401 yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys' Tampa 2 scheme.

Yes, the scheme that's designed to stop the big play yielded four completions of more than 25 yards, including two touchdowns. Think how badly Rivers might have abused the Cowboys' linebackers and secondary, if he wasn't playing behind an injury-ravaged line.

San Diego 30, Dallas 21.

"It's frustrating," linebacker Sean Lee said. "We want to be a consistent team that wins week in and week out and we haven't been for two years. And right now we're not.

"We're an average football team. Until we start winning consistently that's what we're going to be."

Your Cowboys, 18-18 in their past 36 games, now lead Washington and Philadelphia by a game in the NFC East.

Just so you know, the NFC East is 4-12, the worst winning percentage for a division in the NFL. The AFC West currently has compiled the league's best winning percentage, in part because it's 7-1 against the NFC East.

Remember when we all laughed at the NFC West in 2010, when Seattle and St. Louis tied for the division title with 7-9 records and San Francisco finished a game back at 6-10?

Well, you know what they say about karma.

At the very least, it begs the question: Will Garrett keep his job if the Cowboys go 7-9, but win the division and make the playoffs?

On a serious note, Jason Hatcher's much-discussed profanity-laced tirade a few days before the St. Louis victory was supposed to end uneven performances like the one the Cowboys displayed Sunday.

The football gods blessed the Cowboys with a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the rest of the division's struggles -- New York and Washington each started the day winless -- and build a comfortable lead heading into the season's second quarter.

After all, you could argue this is the easiest stretch of the Cowboys' season.

Following home games the next two weeks against Denver and Washington, the Cowboys play five of their next seven games on the road before ending the season against Chicago, Green Bay, Washington and Philadelphia.

All their December foes except Philadelphia are expected to be playoff contenders, which means the Cowboys could play well and still lose. That's why losing winnable games hurts so much.

The season is too young for an abundance of gloom and doom, but when the Cowboys grabbed a 21-10 lead on Sean Lee's fingertip interception and subsequent 52-yard touchdown return with 1:19 left in the first half, who figured they'd never score again?

But San Diego drove 66 yards in eight plays for a 42-yard Nick Novak field goal on the last play of the first half to pull within 21-13. Then the Chargers went 80 yards in 10 plays to start the second half and pull within 21-20.

"Every time you lose it doesn't feel good," Tony Romo said. "I think every time you lose, you look back and say, 'We could've done this, we should've done that.'

"Today we just squandered a few opportunities. With minimal possessions it's going to come down to a few things that you do right or wrong."

Now, the Denver Broncos roll into town having scored at least 37 points in each game, while winning each of their four games by at least 16 points.

If Rivers completed 35 of 42 passes against the Cowboys, how many passes will Peyton Manning complete?

And will he throw for 400 yards too? Or 500? Or 600? Hey, he's too good for us to put limits on him, especially after the way Eli Manning and Rivers have exposed the Cowboys' porous pass defense.

A quarter into the season, the Cowboys have a pair of wins over teams that are a combined 1-7 and have been outscored by a total of 137 points.

Once again, the Cowboys appear to be the epitome of mediocre. Fortunately, that might be good enough to win football's worst division.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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